Defining a place within ceramics and art
Nao Matsunaga found time at the RCA to devote to his work, take his practice seriously and gain confidence.
He has exhibited internationally and participated in many residency programmes, including at Cove Park in Scotland, Arizona State University Art Museum, Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. His work is featured in public collections such as the Crafts Council, the V&A and York Museum, and he won the British Ceramics Biannual award in 2013 and the Jerwood Makers Open in 2012.
What were you doing prior to applying to the Royal College of Art?
After finishing my BA at Brighton, I spent two years working in an architectural ceramics practice. Thinking about it now, a totally amazing job. We built the workshop from scratch, making the studio desks, painting the floor; but the nine-to-five hours meant there was little time for my own work. After two years, I knew it wasn’t how I wanted to be working. I thought, my way out is the RCA.
What was the Ceramics & Glass Programme like?
I’d never studied just ceramics before, so I was struck by the range of work produced on the Programme. I wasn’t a part of the world of traditional pottery and ceramics so it was a big challenge for me to differentiate myself from that. You just have to try to get what you want out of it, and I think I did that. I had as many tutorials as possible with a wide range of people at the College. I knew it was a precious moment to be working stuff out. My time there made me take my work more seriously and gave me more confidence. Now that my days are often shaped around looking after my young son, I’m even more aware of how valuable that time was. A big thing for me was just having all of your time devoted to your work – I think that’s such a luxury. I don’t have that now, and I don’t think I ever will again.
Did the MA at the RCA open doors for you?
Doing artist residencies is one of the best things about how I’m working now, and that all started thanks to the RCA. Soon after graduating in 2007, I spent five months at Konstfack University in Stockholm, a residency set up by the College. There was another residency in 2010 at Cove Park in Scotland and it was around that time that I was signed up to Marsden Woo Gallery. I didn’t know anything about how that world works, so I found it a little bit difficult initially. But now I’m happy with them, and it does feel like a validation as well. After that I won the 2012 Jerwood Makers Open prize and the British Ceramics Biennial award in 2013.
Do you have any advice for current or future students?
When you’re a student, I think you can become over-confident and believe that everything will fall into place as soon as you leave. But it takes time, and the most important thing you can do is to aspire to get better and to get more out of yourself. I believe that. It’s not easy, it’s very insecure, you don’t have money, you don’t have a proper job, you don’t really exist in the proper world – it’s very easy to question yourself. But you develop ways to deal with those insecure moments. And you keep going.
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"A big thing for me was just having all of your time devoted to your work – I think that’s such a luxury."